The annual polar vortex has descended upon the prairies, shrouding much of the landscape in a blanket of extremely cold air approaching wind chills of minus-50 degrees Celsius in some cases. Just the thought of those temperatures is enough to chill any person – or animal – to the bone.
In Alberta, hog farmers produce 2.7 million market hogs annually. These millions of hogs are thankfully able to brace for those potentially lethal temperatures by using barns, heated with energy sources derived from fossil fuels. Few, if any, other practical options exist, as alternative heating systems and non-petroleum fuels are virtually unobtainable, highly cost-prohibitive or simply ineffective.
Canadian consumers value choice. Even in the dead of winter, product offerings at the retail level remain consistent, even if somewhat seasonal. This includes items like fresh produce and meats that are imported from parts of the world with fairer climates. Some carbon-intensive agricultural sectors in Canada are eligible to recuperate carbon tax expenses, but livestock and grain producers are not afforded the same luxury. On many farms, the current carbon tax increased farmers’ costs and decreased their ability to be more productive and proactive by bringing more jobs to rural communities. On top of the current pain, this tax is set to increase five-fold over the next decade, exacerbating the problem.
When it comes to imported goods, these products are not subject to the same standard of taxation, despite the comparatively large carbon footprint associated with international trade. And because no carbon tax is levied against these imported products, it would seem the Canadian farmer is invariably harmed in the process, while others are not. Easily overlooked by the consumer, not so easily overcome by the domestic producer.
And, still, a much bigger question remains: how does any part of this situation promote lower carbon emissions? Simply put, for livestock producers, it does not. While the average non-farm fossil fuel user may be encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint, farmers do not have this option.
Alberta Pork, along with provincial and federal partners, has previously called upon the Government of Canada to create a carbon tax exemption for farmers who need to heat barns in winter and dry grains in the fall. So far, the call has gone unheard or ignored, while many of Alberta’s farmers continue to lose money due to market volatility and other uncontrollable factors.
What impact has the federal carbon tax had on Canadian hog farmers? Stay tuned for further exploration in the Spring 2021 edition of the Canadian Hog Journal, published in May.
In the meantime, perhaps Canadian consumers need to ask politicians if they really care about our domestic food supply. If the global pandemic has taught us anything, let it be that we need to protect our domestic food supply and support the development of domestic COVID-19 vaccines!